ACTA on the ropes: Protests could sink anti-piracy treaty

Protests spreading across Europe against an international anti-piracy agreement — which have included website hacks and Guy Fawkes mask-wearing lawmakers joining in — have put the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement on hold.

ACTA, first developed by the United States and Japan in 2006, is an attempt to set international standards for protection of copyrights and other intellectual property. But opponents claim it would infringe on free speech, privacy and digital freedoms, voicing essentially the same reasons for the protests in January that have effectively scuttled U.S. anti-piracy bills.

The Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act before the Senate were targeted Jan. 18 by a massive online protest that included several large sites such as Wikipedia and Reddit choosing to go dark for a day, and since then lawmakers have backed away from it.

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In Europe, ACTA appeared to be gaining steam recently, as representatives of 22 of 27 European members signed on. But the agreement also has to be ratified by each country’s government, and recent protests appear to have turned officials away from the treaty.

In Poland, protests included lawmakers wear Guy Fawkes masks (a common symbol for the hacker group Anonymous and the various Occupy movements) in parliament and have prompted Prime Minister Donald Tuck to hold off on ratification, ArsTechnica reported. All EU members must ratify the treaty for it to take effect, Ars reported.

The United States, along with Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea, signed ACTA in October 2011, though it has not yet been ratified. In all, 31 countries have signed the agreement so far, though none have ratified it, ZDNet reported.

Meanwhile, protests in Europe continue, with abut 100 more expected this week, the BBC reported. More than 1.75 million people have signed a petition calling for ACTA’s rejection.

Protests have included attacks on government websites, including those of Greece, Poland and the European Parliament.

In Slovenia, the protests were led by that country’s ambassador to Japan, Helene Drnovsek Zorko, who had signed the treaty but has since repented. The BBC reported that Zorko apologized for signing the treaty, releasing a statement saying that, "Quite simply, I did not clearly connect the agreement I had been instructed to sign with the agreement that, according to my own civic conviction, limits and withholds the freedom of engagement on the largest and most significant network in human history, and thus limits particularly the future of our children."

The impact of the European protests is similar to the protests in the United States against SOPA and PIPA, in which millions of people signed petitions opposing the proposed laws and thousands of websites and blogs went dark Jan. 18. Almost immediately, lawmakers began disowning the bills.

But although SOPA, PIPA and ACTA ostensibly share the same goal — protecting intellectual property rights — they don’t contain the same provisions.

The biggest objections to SOPA and PIPA are to provisions that would require service providers to block websites deemed to be trafficking in counterfeit goods and search engines to direct traffic away from them. In addition to smacking of censorship and potentially blacklisting sites that inadvertently carried some counterfeit items, the provisions would undercut efforts to secure the Internet’s Domain Name System. Part of that effort is to prevent the redirection of traffic.

ACTA’s opponents say the international agreement would do the same thing, but Timothy B. Lee at Ars Technica points out that ACTA contains no blocking or redirecting provisions.

In fact, Lee writes that many of the strongest claims made of ACTA opponents “are highly misleading or outright inaccurate,” and details four of the most egregious examples.

Lee doesn’t approve of ACTA, calling it a bad agreement, but he writes that it should be debated on its merits.

Although the protests could wind up sinking ACTA, some form of international standards still might be the best way to protect intellectual property.

SOPA’s early opponents in Congress, for example, nevertheless agreed that some kind of rules are needed to protect music, movies and other copyrighted works against piracy, most of which is carried out by foreign operations. They just objected to some of the bill’s more drastic measures.

And GCN’s William Jackson contends that international cooperation would be the most effective way of dealing with pirate operations.

International treaties don’t work without international cooperation, so if the protests in Europe kill ACTA there, it could be back to the drawing board for copyright protection efforts.


About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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